Pension Envy: Who Has More—Obama or Romney?

Pension Envy: Who Has More—Obama or Romney?
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

When it comes to the presidential candidates' pensions, size matters in more ways than one.

Retirement packages sparked one of a series of confrontations during the Tuesday debate between President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

The exchange took place during a discussion of China policy, with the president accusing the former Massachusetts governor of hypocrisy when it came to tough talk against the nation that boasts the world's second-largest economy.

Romney conceded that a blind trust that manages his money does have investments in China, but countered that he wasn't alone.

"Mr. President, have you looked at your pension? Have you looked at your pension? Mr. President, have you looked at your pension?" Romney challenged.

In one of the debate's lighter moments, Obama countered, "I don't look at my pension. It's not as big as yours so it doesn't take as long. I don't check it that often."

The remarks sparked some audience laughter — and yet another Romney rebuke.

"Let me give you some advice: Look at your pension. You also have investments in Chinese companies, you also have investments outside the United States, " he said.

On that score, Romney is likely correct.

Many public pension funds have a diversified foreign investment portfolio that includes China. For instance, the California Public Employees Retirement System, or CalPERS, recently announced a $530 million investment in two real estate funds that target China.

Most other public pension funds have directed increasing allocations to emerging markets and alternative investment classes to generate returns and bridge exploding funding gaps.

As far as size?

From the standpoint of a public pension, Obama is well-heeled.

As president, he will receive $191, 300 annually for life — win or lose in next month's election — and receives a travel allotment as well as mailing privileges. Should Obama lose, his presidential pension kicks in immediately after leaving office.

Given that the president enjoys a normal life span, the pension allotment would be worth upwards of $6 million.

The federal budget spends about $3 million annually for the four living ex-presidents. Obama also will get Secret Service protection.

In addition, Obama may be due a nice pension for the eight years he served in the Illinois Legislature as a state senator.

Illinois is infamous for its lavish pension plan for former lawmakers. A Freedom of Information Act request for Obama's pension amount submitted Wednesday to the General Assembly Retirement System of Illinois was not immediately answered, nor was a call to the Obama campaign.

But what about Romney?

It's extensively documented that Romney is, well, a rich guy. He earned untold millions —though famously circumspect about releasing tax returns — while leading private equity giant Bain Capital and has a substantial retirement plan.

His Individual Retirement Account could be worth in the neighborhood of $87 million, as documented in an extensive report from the Washington Post.

But as for a strictly public pension? Zip, zero.

Romney only served one term as governor of the Bay State and did not take a salary, so he is eligible for nothing.

So while Romney appears headed for a happier retirement financially, he'll be footing his own bill — unless, of course, he wins next month. In that case, his nest egg will be even that much bigger than Obama's.

UPDATE: PolitiFact, the fact-checking arm of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, has confirmed that Obama does participate in the Illinois pension fund, which was organized in the Cayman Islands and has interests in China.

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